It’s International Women’s Day 2019 and the theme is all about #BalanceforBetter – forging a more gender-balanced world.
So it feels like time to write about diversity, my experiences of being a woman in man’s world for many years, what it all means to me.
It’s also probably time I got off the fence about the subject – I’ve always tread carefully around this topic, taking care not to offend, not to appear too extreme, avoiding the confrontation that always came with this subject.
And that’s a telling sign in and of itself, right?
Succeeding in a man’s world
I started my career in financial services in the mid-1990’s and sky rocketed through the levels, achieving senior leadership/Director level in my late 20’s. It wasn’t something I set out to do – it was definitely a case of right place, right time, right attitude, right performance.
A young woman in amongst heavily male dominated peers was an interesting time.
- Did I experience a glass ceiling? Absolutely not.
- Did I experience gender discrimination? Yes.
- Did I benefit from being a woman? Probably.
- Did I notice being treated differently because I was a woman? Absolutely yes.
Without a doubt I’ve been fortunate. I’ve worked for some of the most emotionally intelligent men and women you could hope to come across – and this is the majority of my experience. I’ve also worked for both men and women who’ve had their favourites, been knowingly disrespectful, rude and condescending.
On reflection I’ve had equally good and equally bad experiences irrespective of whether I’ve been working with men or women.
You see, it’s not that clear cut.
It’s largely in the subtleties.
Little Things – Big Impact
Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what feels different or wrong. Nothing is ever intentional, it’s just hard-wired into us all – both men and women.
From the work environment, the things that pop to mind from my own experience are listed below. I’m not just talking 20 years ago in the office – I’ve experienced some of these very recently:
- Turning to a female meeting attendee to take notes, irrespective of everyone’s roles – I hadn’t seen this for a while, but noticed it at a recent networking meeting. I was shocked and was willing the woman to say no and tell them to take a running jump (she didn’t). I didn’t join that networking group because of this and other observations which struck of old-school male superiority.
- Women always being the first to offer to make/serve drinks when refreshments are available at the office. Yes, men seem to not think about taking this role, but women do. Me included. And so you always end up with women serving men. I absolutely LOVE it when a man jumps up to do this – without making a big deal about it.
- Women making a point, no-one listening. Man making the same point, everyone listening. Women makes point louder and more forcefully. Man think she’s emotional. How many people do you know frustrated by this?
- Work routines, structures and meeting times still being scheduled without childcare and families in mind – in the majority of cases women are still the main carer and this impacts their ability to be involved.
- Women not being true to themselves – adopting more masculine behaviours at work to join the inner circle. Men not noticing that someone is choosing to leave their authentic self behind to be able to succeed. I’ve definitely been guilty of this one. MANY times.
- Typically male dominated skills and attributes taking precedence over female ones. Decisions made on intuition are often seen as fluffy and having little place in the business world.
- Equal pay…. enough said.
Is gender imbalance all one-way?
Unfortunately not. My word, women can be their own worst enemy sometimes!
In recent years I’ve been party to women having overtly sexual conversations about their male colleagues, and I’ve wanted to just disappear into a whole in the floor. It’s not a one-off. Sometimes I’ve ignored it (and yes I’m ashamed of that) and other times I’ve called people on it – and the response hasn’t been easy to be on the receiving end of. My female friends – let me be really clear – this will never be appropriate. Men can’t do this. Neither can you.
Do I see women unconsciously adopting a subservient role to men in the workplace? All the time. You see, we’ve got to step up too. We’ve got to know how to operate as an equal and do so with confidence.
Yes, there’s more than this. So, no it’s not all one way and I’m acutely aware of that. Everyone has to play their part in gender balance.
Times are Changing – Embracing Diversity
Now I’m one of those people who always looks for the positive, I know that. Some might not agree with me, but I definitely notice a positive shift. Times are changing and I enjoy what I’m seeing and experiencing.
- I love the fact that my brother and his wife, both accountants, have just been able to share maternity/paternity leave over the first year of my nephew’s life.
- I love the fact that both men and women are starting to feel comfortable with their differences and finding the path to equality throughdifference.
- I love that companies like Gillette made that advert and it caused a riot – the noise means it made an impact.
- I love that many of my coaching clients are a true balance of men and women – the diversity and learning that brings to my practice is immense.
Are there still issues. Of course. But it’s moving in the right direction.
Final Words and My Gender Diversity Heroes
There’s so much more I could write on this subject, but I’ll leave it there for today. My final words are positive ones.
We’re moving in the right direction, we’ve all got a role to play, we’ve all to be comfortable in being our authentic selves, and we should all celebrate every success.
As I’ve been writing this I’ve been thinking about the people I’ve worked with whom have really made an impact on me when it comes to this subject. They’re all men. A huge thank you to the following – I’m forever grateful.